The first list, to celebrate accomplishments in the field of architecture, dates back to the 1st-2nd century BC. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World listed the most spectacular man-made structures as viewed by the Ancient Greeks. And it was the Greek architects to build the foundation for the classical architectural styles to dominate the Western World, and it was the Greek language to coin the very word architecture (arkhitekton ‘master builder, director of works’).
And while six of the iconic constructions of the Ancient World did not survive the time, and we can only marvel at the Great Pyramid of Giza (constructed circa 2580–2560 BC), the ancient architects left us a plethora of buildings to commend and use.
Starting with the Mahabodhi Temple, (literally, Great Awakening Temple), with the original structure built by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, the first Buddhist ruler of India, circa 260 BC, to become one of Buddhism’s most important cornerstones, commemorated as the place where Buddha attained enlightenment. The temple, one of the earliest and most imposing structures built entirely in brick, surrounded on all four sides by stone railings – the older ones made of sandstone, and the others of unpolished granite – survived numerous reconstructions to be today revered as the holiest place of Buddhist pilgrimage in the world.
Another construction project, commissioned by the emperor Ashoka, is the Great Stupa at Sanchi, one of the oldest stone structures in India to nowadays be the best-preserved example of a stupa.
Moving away from Buddhism temples, we come to a Roman temple, declared as one of the best-preserved Ancient Roman buildings – the Pantheon in Rome, finished by emperor Hadrian circa 120 AD on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, and in continuous use throughout its history. A true architectural wonder with its circula dome (diameter 43.30 meters), which until today remains the largest unsupported dome in the world. The Pantheon, with an architecture ahead of its time, was designed as a symbol of the power of the emperors and their divine authority, to be turned into a church in 609 AD and to still serve as one nowadays.
Another architectural masterpiece to survive the time and commissioned by Hidrian – is his own mausoleum. Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) was once the tallest building in Rome to become the last home for the remains of numerous Roman emperors. Converted to a military fortress in 401, to a Papal Castle in the 14th century – to serve equally well as a refuge during siege and a prison, and eventually part of the fortress to became military barracks and nowadays a museum of military history.
And the Byzantine Empire has its architectural marvels not to miss, with one of the most prominent and still in use today, the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The almost square building – with a huge main dome supported by marble piers and two semi doms – was converted into a mosque when in 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. With the founding of the modern Turkish Republic, Hagia Sophia was transformed into a museum to let visitors marvel at one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture.
✵The buildings, highlighted in the article, are selected by the architectural translation specialists at EVS Translations.